Massachusetts Election Could Signal Beginning of Post-Kennedy Era

Massachusetts may have entered the post-Kennedy era last week.

The Kennedy dynasty had been a continuous presence in the U.S. Senate and/or White House since 1953. Members of the family are still active in public and private life, and one is a congressman, but the Democrat who was poised to carry on the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's legacy in the Senate -- and help push the "cause" of his life over the finish line -- was just rebuked by the voters of the state the Kennedys called home.

For the Kennedy name, it was the latest disappointment.

"The Democrats absolutely ran a campaign that said this was, is, for Ted," said Boston University Professor Tobe Berkovitz. Despite constant references to Kennedy during the campaign and pleas from his widow Vicki, the voters disagreed: It was about them.

The twist of political fate doesn't mean the causes the Kennedy family fought for -- equal rights, health care, social spending -- are extinguished.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Ted Kennedy's legacy remains "un-dented" by the latest race.

"I don't think there's any threat to his legacy whatsoever," he said, noting the litany of major government programs he's voted for. "His impact was profound."

But, Berkovitz said, it does mean nobody from the Kennedy clan is in a high enough position to be the face of those issues.

"They've sort of gotten out of the family business," he said.

An early signal of the fade of the Kennedy aura came during the 2008 presidential campaign. The national political scene went abuzz after the Massachusetts senator offered his early support for colleague Barack Obama. But when the Massachusetts primary arrived, voters broke overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.

It later seemed like Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's daughter, was preparing to carry the mantle of her ailing uncle's family. She endorsed Obama early on, helped lead his search for a vice president, spoke at the Democratic National Convention and then got into the running to replace Clinton in the Senate, representing New York -- the same state once represented by Robert F. Kennedy. But that bid fell through. She faced questions about her spotty voting history, as well as her charisma deficit, and ultimately withdrew from the running.

Massachusetts State Attorney General Martha Coakley was the latest to have the blessing of the Kennedy family. Yet voters on Tuesday elected Republican Scott Brown, whose breakout moment may have been when the state lawmaker chastised a debate moderator for using the term, "Teddy Kennedy's seat."

"It's the people's seat," Brown said.

The voters' decision Tuesday was a double blow, since it also sent health care reform into a tailspin, with Brown's victory depriving Democrats of their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.

And so as Coakley closed her concession speech Tuesday with Kennedy's famed battle cry, "The hope rises again, and the dream lives on," those words seemed all the more distant.

Berkovitz said the Kennedy name just doesn't carry the same weight across generations.

"If you're over 65 years old, you have pictures of the Kennedy family somewhere in your house," he said. "But once you start getting to the younger voters the name doesn't have the same deep resonance."

Obama, of course, would be the most apparent incarnation of the Kennedy legacy. He was effectively handed the mantle during the presidential campaign, and appears to strive toward the kind of bipartisan pragmatism exemplified by Ted Kennedy -- often using his motto to "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Berkovitz said Obama certainly captures the "charismatic side" of the Kennedy clan, particularly John and Robert.

Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, who worked with Ted Kennedy, said one family member, lawyer Joseph P. Kennedy III, might still "pick up the mantle" and enter politics. Ted Kennedy's son Patrick currently represents Rhode Island in the House.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, whose first political job was for Ted Kennedy in 1979, said the Kennedy family is still serving, only outside of elected office.

"There'll be another wave I think. It's just not clear which member of the family will lead it or whether it will be (in public office)," he said.

But he acknowledged the void left in the Senate.

"No one's going to fill those shoes for a long, long, long time," Trippi said.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry appeared to have no hard feelings for Brown as he greeted him on Capitol Hill Thursday. He cited Kennedy's bipartisan lessons in welcoming Brown into the fold when he was asked what it was like, as a longtime Kennedy friend, to see the Republican fill that seat.

"You have to work across the aisle here to make things happen. Americans don't just elect Democrats and Republicans, they elect people to be responsible with the people's business," Kerry said.

Kennedy's son Patrick was equally gracious, congratulating Brown Thursday and meeting in his father's office.

Before leaving, Kennedy gave the senator-elect a copy of his father's memoir "True Compass."'s Judson Berger and Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.